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Dublin: 7 °C Sunday 20 January, 2019

Wrestlers you won't believe existed and the link between Springsteen and baseball; the week’s best sportswriting

Also featuring an in-depth interview with snooker legend Jimmy White.

1. “In 265 years, 69 men have been promoted to yokozuna. Just 69 since George Washington was a teenager. 2 Only the holders of sumo’s highest rank are allowed to make entrances like this. Officially, the purpose of the elaborate dohyo-iri is to chase away demons. (And this is something you should register about sumo, a sport with TV contracts and millions in revenue and fan blogs and athletes in yogurt commercials — that it’s simultaneously a sport in which demon-frightening can be something’s official purpose.) But the ceremony is territorial on a human level, too. It’s a message delivered to adversaries, a way of saying This ring is mine, a way of saying Be prepared for what happens if you’re crazy enough to enter it.”

Brian Phillips of Grantland makes sumo wrestling seem utterly compelling.

2. “There are two sides to me. The anxiety-ridden side, which often fills me with fear when I most need to be at my best. This is the part of me that I don’t want anyone to know about. But there’s also the ultra-competitive side. The side that hates losing and is evident every time I play sports. That’s the paradox. I’m lonely and I desperately want to catch the next flight back to Connecticut. But at I also want to prove that I can be as good as Jim McMahon.”

Jeff has an intriguing extract from former NFL player Steve Young’s new book.

3. “To pull yourself from red-head back to blue-head thinking you need to give yourself an anchor to refocus your attention. These anchors have to be immediately accessible but are different for each individual so Thorn would throw water over himself, Richie McCaw would stamp his feet, Kieran Read would stare at the farthest point in the stadium. All these strategies re-engage the player in the moment and back into blue-head mode.”

The Telegraph produce a fascinating piece on New Zealand assistant coach Gilbert Enoka.


American males

“Where you guys from?”
“Perfect, we have a name for you!”

Buzzfeed’s witty look at ’42 Wrestlers You Won’t Believe Actually Existed’ is both consistently entertaining and funny.

5. “I’m not even sure why we’re in Leicester. He’s carrying a battered old cue case, which he duly brandishes for the photographer, but he isn’t here to play snooker. He has driven up from Surrey for some “meetings”, he explains vaguely. About what? “Gritting.” Gritting? He’s gone into business with “some Indians” who have cornered the market in grit for icy roads, apparently. Might he not want to focus on publicising his book, I suggest? He grins. “Well, I was going to do some of that next week, but I’ve had to cancel it.” A snooker tournament has come up instead. Having just written a book about how he blew his dazzling talent on drink and drugs and mayhem for the past 30 years, White feels confident that at 52 he could yet still become the world champion. “Oh yeah,” he nods. “If I didn’t think I could still win it, I’d stop playing.”

Decca Aitkenhead’s interview with controversial snooker legend Jimmy White is as engrossing as you’d expect it to be.

6. “Memory functions like this, when it functions. Rotary dial phones, Betamax machines, old TV shows, the 1985 Kansas City Royals: the past can be comforting because it doesn’t change, because it is so resolutely the past. Our own pasts are like this, so interesting to us and only us. They smell to us like the still atmosphere of an attic, or the rich, damp, earthy scent of earth long undisturbed, while to others they’re the unfamiliar air of somebody else’s weird old house: musty carpet underpadding, urine of cats long dead, mothballs in dresser drawers. Our own nostalgia is luxurious; someone else’s is someone else’s, and something else.”

Andrew Forbes of The Classical examines the connection between baseball and Bruce Springsteen, among other topics.

7. “When the players were consulted we were all very brazen 12 about actually playing the match; everyone had the attitude of ‘let’s just do it’, and yet at the back of all our minds was creeping worry. Would athletes be targeted? Ha, ha! No way. Surely not. Shrug off the fear, lads, and move on.

“However, in the days before the game someone mentioned the 1972 Olympics, when members of the Israeli Olympic team had been gunned down by the Palestinian group Black September. There was that momentary, stomach-tightening fear again. So, as the coach passed through the tight Belfast streets, past the red, white and blue kerb-stones and triumphal murals of King Billy on his horse, minds were racing with anxiety. Sitting in darkness, everyone was silent. I looked up and down the coach to the two special branch men, disguised in Football Association of Ireland tracksuits to blend in with us players. Even they seemed to be stroking their guns nervously.”

We know self praise is no praise, but you’ll forgive us for including this excellent passage from Alan McLoughlin’s autobiography, which featured on this site earlier in the week.

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